- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Three Georgia storm enthusiasts are in Kansas this weekend to track severe weather and find out if it’s possible to collect tornado data by sending remote-controlled aircraft into the storms.

Warren Causey, Nolan Lunsford and Bret Bouthiller started the Sirens Project more than a year ago with the goal of flying unmanned planes into a tornado, the Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/1KT2Z2G ) reported. After initially trying to build the airplanes themselves, they discovered Ag Eagle, a Neodesha-based company that builds such aircraft for use in agriculture.

“There are a lot of people saying this won’t work,” Causey said. “But it’s worth a shot - and the data could be really valuable.”

The airplanes are made mostly of Styrofoam and are powered by small electric motors and plastic propellers.

Causey had been chasing storms for years before the three came together in 2013, shortly after three veteran storm-chasers were killed by a tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma.

Until then, Causey said he had mainly been interested in capturing tornadoes visually. Now he wants to gather data meteorologists can use to better predict the destructive storms and help keep people safe.

Causey met Nolan, who was interested in unmanned aircraft, and Nolan’s roommate, Bouthiller, who has been flying radio-controlled aircraft since he was 7.

The group turned to Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding website, to fund the Sirens Project. They raised more than $11,000 and were able to buy three unmanned planes. Using them will allow the researchers to stay far enough away from storms to be safe.

Researchers typically try to position probes in the path of a tornado, but it’s necessary for them to get as close to twisters as possible - often within 100 yards - before dropping a probe out of a truck and speeding away.

The equipment the group has now can be launched from a mile or more away and piloted into the tornado. The transmitters have a range of at least 5 miles, Bouthiller said.

“Most storm chasers get a lot closer than that - but we think that’s ridiculous,” he said.

Should the group find a tornado, it’s unlikely that any of the unmanned planes would survive the weekend.

“We have three in our fleet, and probably won’t bring any of them home,” Bouthiller said. “It would be great if we could, but probably not.”

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com


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